Some years ago our daughter had an assignment in her Senior Experience class...I can honestly say, this is one of the best learning experiences she had in high school. It taught her what the "real world" is about and that project will stay with her for life.
First, I must explain this wonderful opportunity our students have in this course. Two years ago our school district, Hollow Hills Central School
District, decided to offer a "Senior Experience". This is a humanities course which satisfies
the English and Social Studies credits needed to meet graduation requirements. In addition, students complete an internship in a career interest of his or her choice. Several
districts in the area offer this type of program. Senior Experience is challenging, real and rewarding. It is offered as an honors course and students are selected to
participate. Three teachers work together to provide interdisciplinary instruction from both a literary and historical point of view. For example, one unit focused on
immigration. Students read the book, The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle, and learned about the history of immigration. Students also took part in two field trips
related to this topic; one to a tenement museum where they learned about the conditions of early immigrants, followed by a cultural food tour. The other trip was to the United
Nations. Throughout this unit our daughter would tell us of the interesting and engaging conversations that ensued as a result. When I ask about the class overall,
she was excited about the intellectual interactions and how connections in literature, history and real life intertwine. As far as the internship piece, she worked at a local
paper, The Long Islander, twice a week and was responsible for covering local news stories and publishing articles both on paper and on the web.
Real stuff. It gave her insight on what the real world is like.
This brings me to the our daughter’s assignment. She was tasked with developing a budget based on the starting salary she would make in the career she wanted to pursue. Well, let me tell you, I enjoyed watching her work. When she found out what her salary would be after taxes, she was shocked. "What is this FICA, state taxes, federal taxes"? Then it was time to look for an apartment. She decided to live in Brooklyn because it would be cheaper to get to work - but she had to have a roommate to help with expenses. When it came time for phone, groceries, transportation via subway and utilities, she was done...or should I say broke? This project was a lot of work and it took several days to complete. However, it was a very enlightening experience. As a teenager you rarely learn about these things. This assignment gave her an appreciation for potential earnings and a reality check on how to budget earnings wisely. She told us it made her more conscious and aware, and it gave her a taste of what she will experience when she goes out on her own.
I loved this assignment! She worked on it like she was really planning her independent life. The assignment was taken seriously because the teachers were serious about teaching reality and having students use critical thinking skills to figure out real life situations. More of this learning needs to happen in our schools K-12. With so much emphasis on testing it is difficult to go off script in some courses. However, it is worthwhile to spend a little time having students apply what they learn in class to real life. It is important to foster this culture in our educational system. Instead, we focus a considerable amount of time teaching students to look for the right answer, and we have moved away from having students discover the right answer. Is there time for real life lessons at all grade levels? How do we accomplish this?